Year 9: Moral Choices – Would You Eat Your Cat?

Year 10, Semester 2 Unit: How should we live our lives?

Lesson type: Community of philosophical inquiry

Themes: Making moral decisions with consideration of utilitarian, deontological and virtue theories

Focus inquiry/reasoning skill: Considering other points of view

Purpose: To apply previous learning in ethics and development of argument

Philosophical background
Often we are faced with moral decisions that are not easily resolved and which sometimes involve contradictory moral rules. There are three main ways that we go about deciding what we should do.

1. Jeremy Bentham (1748 – 1832) and John Stuart Mill (1806 – 1873) argued for what is called utilitarianism. This is the view that an action is morally good good if it produces the greatest overall happiness of people. That is, the best possible outcomes or consequences possible as a result of the moral decision made. The end, if it means great happiness for many, justifies the means.

2. Another view is that of deontology, which is duty based ethics. Someone who follows duty-based ethics should follow the moral rule, even if that produces more harm (or less good) than not following it: people have a duty to do the right thing, even if it produces a bad result. So, for example, the philosopher Emmanuel Kant (1774 – 1804) thought that it would be wrong to tell a lie in order to save a friend from a murderer. He believed that by lying, a person annihilates their dignity as a person.

3. A third way of looking at moral decision making is through the eyes of virtue ethics, which is the cultivation of character or virtue. Aristotle (384 BC 322 BC) believed that people should act in a way that is most likely to contribute to the cultivation of a virtuous character. For more general Ethics information see:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/ethics/introduction/consequentialism_1.shtml

Resources needed
  • Rules
  • Ball
  • Skills Cards

Lesson Outline

NB: It is important before you begin, to be familiar with this scenario and the reasons why people come to different decisions. This can be found in *Sangstrom Pgs 12 – 13, with an explanation on pgs 68 – 70. This should assist you in facilitating this community of philosophical inquiry.

At the beginning of each lesson, revise the rules and articulate focus inquiry skill/s.

Display rules where teacher can refer to them if and when needed.

Main activity
  1. Point out that we will be looking at a moral dilemma. Whilst we will touch on other branches of Philosophy, it is essentially Ethics. The manner in which we discuss this ethical dilemma will require us to use skills from Logic and Reasoning – developing argument etc.
  2. Share stimulus: Would you eat your cat? (*Sangstrom 2010, pg 12).
  3. Community of philosophical inquiry: Discussion plan.
    • Was Cleo wrong to eat her cat Hector?
      (Yes because… No because… Who agrees/disagrees but for a different reason?)

There are several ways students could take this discussion. Following are some suggested questions that should deepen the discussion whichever way it goes. Choose those that are appropriate for your group. Look for opportunities to point out moral theories.

  • Is it alright to kill an animal and eat it if it was bred for that purpose?
  • What is the difference between eating an animal specially bred to be eaten and eating an animal that is a pet?
  • What makes an animal a pet?
  • What is the distinction between a pet and animal in the wild? Is it alright to kill and eat one but not the other? Why?
  • Is there a difference between killing and eating a wild animal and killing and eating an animal specially bred for the purpose?
  • Are some animal lives worth more than others?

OR

  • If you think Cleo did the wrong thing…Points to consider (raise one by one):
    • Hector was not actually killed in order to be eaten (was it still wrong?)
    • He was not harmed by being eaten (was it still wrong?)
    • Nobody else was harmed by his being eaten (was it still wrong?)
    • Cleo was comforted by her having eaten Hector.
  • If you still think it was wrong after hearing this discussion, why was it wrong?
  • If something is simply morally repugnant is that a good reason for it to be wrong? (Philosopher Jonathan Glover [b 1941] argues that many of the atrocities of the last century were possible precisely because people’s moral emotions had been switched off.)
  • Is it alright to make a moral judgement based solely on the basis of feelings of revulsion?
  • What if someone judged you on the basis of something you find normal but they find repulsive? Would that be alright?
Suggested teacher procedural questions (for use during lesson)
  • Is there anything more we need to know to be justified in saying…
  • Invite generalisation. Is this always true?
  • What would the further consequences be?
Student reflection (10 mins)
  1. Whole group reflection (oral):
    • Did you hear something today that was surprising or new to you?
    • Did we come any closer to deciding whether it was wrong of Cleo to eat Hector?
  2. Individual reflection (written):
    • Was it alright for Cleo to eat Hector or not? Explain.
Teacher reflection
  • What was something surprising a student said?
  • What was something that worked well?
  • What is something I’d like to work on for next time?

* Stangroom, Jeremy (2010). Would You Eat Your Cat? Allen and Unwin, NSW